Tiger Woods breaks merger silence with assertive message to PGA Tour leadership
It was, in the literal sense of the term, a vote of confidence for PGA Tour commissioner Jay Monahan. A “new agreement” to ensure the Tour, led by Monahan, “lives up to its mission.”
But anyone reading Tuesday morning’s press release from the Tour knew it was the opposite. The players had just delivered a staggering rebuke of Monahan’s decision-making in recent months and scope of authority atop the PGA Tour, stripping away the same legislative freedoms that originally had allowed him to sign a framework agreement with the Saudi Public Investment Fund and reshape the future of professional golf without their knowledge.
But that wasn’t the surprising part of Tuesday morning’s announcement. The really striking part was the superstar at the center of the reorganization — a player whose silence has loomed large over professional golf in the eight weeks since the framework agreement was first announced: Tiger Woods.
According to multiple reports, Woods was the leader of a group of more than 40 players who delivered Monahan a letter on Monday detailing a list of demands for the future of the PGA Tour. Monahan swiftly agreed to those mandates, which included installing Woods as a sixth “player director” atop the PGA Tour policy board and granting players the right of first refusal on all aspects of a “definitive agreement” with the PIF. The changes give players a voting majority on PGA Tour matters heading forward, and ensure that Monahan and the Tour’s non-player board members can no longer act unilaterally on behalf of players without their knowledge, as Monahan, Jimmy Dunne and Ed Herlihy did forging the “framework” agreement with the PIF.
Woods has not spoken publicly since news of the merger first broke on June 6, which is notable considering the unilateral support the Tour received from golf’s largest stakeholders in the wake of the announcement. When word surfaced of Woods’ policy-board appointment on Tuesday, his first words on the merger were supportive of Monahan.
“The players thank Commissioner Monahan for agreeing to address our concerns,” he said in a release distributed by the Tour. “We look forward to being at the table with him to make the right decisions for the future of the game that we all love.”
But it didn’t take a linguistics expert to understand the deeper meaning. In perhaps his most brazen move as a playing professional, Woods had led a mutiny to seize back the power of golf’s largest professional tour from its non-playing leadership. Under the new agreement, Monahan was rendered powerless in negotiating a definitive agreement with the Saudis without player support. The players, on the other hand, now hold the full weight of negotiating power — and the counsel and expertise of Colin Neville, a long-time team-golf proponent and newly minted special advisor.
The new structure marks a tectonic shift in the power dynamics of professional golf. But perhaps it shouldn’t have landed as a surprise. Particularly not given Woods’ own words over these last 18 months.
It was Woods, after all, who had proven himself professional golf’s leading opponent to Saudi involvement. In just the last year, he turned down an offer “in the neighborhood” of $700 million, per LIV Golf commissioner Greg Norman; orchestrated a Tour-defining “players-only” tarmac meeting in Delaware; and delivered a striking condemnation of LIV Golf at the Open Championship at St. Andrews.
“As far as the players who have chosen to go to LIV and to play there, I disagree with it,” Woods said at the beginning of an impassioned criticism of the upstart tour. “They’ve turned their back on what has allowed them to get to this position.”
At the Hero World Challenge in November, he doubled down on his criticism of LIV players and leadership, chafing at “the way they showed their disregard or disrespect to the Tour that helped them get to [this] point.” He argued there may be a path forward for the PIF and the PGA Tour, but it would require Greg Norman’s dismissal from the lead position at LIV.
When news broke of the agreement in June, it didn’t take long before word followed that Woods, like the rest of pro golf, was left in the dark until the deal’s final stages. It was unclear then how Woods felt about the agreement, but not any longer.
Woods, like many of his peers, sees Monahan’s decision to negotiate their future without their knowledge as a grave betrayal of trust. A betrayal they feel can’t — and now won’t — ever happen again.
“I am honored to represent the players of the PGA Tour,” Woods said. “This is a critical point for the Tour, and the players will do their best to make certain that any changes that are made in Tour operations are in the best interest of all Tour stakeholders, including fans, sponsors and players.”
The goal of these changes is written right there in the press release: for the players, by the players. The result is just as easy to understand: the era of secrets in men’s professional golf is over — and the era of player empowerment is only just beginning.
As Woods closed his first statement since the announcement of golf’s landmark merger, he cleared up one final bit of business.
“He has my confidence moving forward with these changes,” Woods said of his embattled commissioner.
Which would seem to suggest Monahan had previously lost it.